Often adults talk animatedly to me about their desire to dance, finishing with a crest-fallen look and “Oh, but I didn’t learn to dance as a child”. Occasionally, I’m not sure if this is an excuse for not dancing or a genuine regret that the potential joy of dance has passed them by. I suspect it’s the latter.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a community where dancing, singing and music-making was a normal, everyday activity. I danced at school, I sang and played my guitar on the school bus with a group of others, I danced at parties and I danced with my friends for fun in the lounge room. We were not doing any particular dance or steps, just moving to the music and enjoying it.
Fast-forward forty years, and what I see that dancing has become objectified: commodified in a way that makes it seem less accessible to people as an ordinary activity, and all about athleticism, show and performance.
The rise of TV dance shows may bring dancing into people’s homes but really not in way that makes people feel they can participate. There are dancers and there are audiences: never the twain shall meet.
There is also seems to be a tangible expectation that all learning is geared for children, and this is very largely the reality. Of course learning can be easier as a child – learning a language, learning a sport, learning to write- anything at all. Young brains are like sponges that soak up new information, and young bodies bend more easily to new experiences. But there’s more to it than having youth on your side.
I vividly remember my Irish step dancing class in 1996-97, as the Riverdance craze was building, and classes were provided for adults. There was only one male in our class- we’ll call him Paul. Paul had flat feet, was troubled by the musical rhythm and was slow to catch on to dance steps but he was incredibly keen. I left the class for 3 months while I took extended leave to travel overseas, and imagine my surprise on returning to the class and there was Paul, dancing the St.Patrick’s Day jig – no bother. Paul had spent that entire 3 months practising and he was very determined to learn. He knew the dance much better than me actually, and that really put me in my place.
I have had this experience repeatedly with a range of adults in my dance classes- people who have no dance experience and sometimes no coordination but they do have a real desire to want to dance.
And they have courage: they are courageous in overcoming their fears and doubts.The fear of looking stupid in front of others, fear of the unknown and also concerns about lack of coordination and fitness. I suspect reducing the fear factor is one way of getting more adults to dance and participate.
Enter the emerging No Lights, No Lycra – adults congregating to “dance like nobody’s watching”, freedom in the safety of semi-darkness. Started by two dance students in Melbourne, Australia in 2009, this concept has spread to 50 locations in 6 countries including the USA, Canada and China.
I can understand the appeal of this idea and I will be incorporating 5 minutes of “legs without lights” into my new Shine simple dance classes in Canberra – just for the craic!
So, men and women of the world, what is your experience of dancing?
For those not yet dancing, what would help you to get started?
I’d love to hear from you.